Two months after I started dating Hubby, his father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, an astrocytoma (which is coincidentally the same type of brain tumor Joey had). Dr. Glow was 69 and retired. He was smart enough to know how the tumor had already affected his body, and accepted the idea that it would eventually end his life. It did, six months later with his wife and his eight children by his side.
I am so sad that I didn't get a chance to have this man as my father-in-law. Quiet, dignified, kind, and funny are words that people use to describe him. Luckily, they are also characteristics that I see in my own husband. Hubby's father made the best choice he could for himself and his family about how to live out his final days. It's a choice that every person should have. But they don't.
Cancer is a nasty disease. Often, the treatment is much worse than the actual disease. Shortly after Joey was diagnosed with his brain tumor, Hubby and I had a talk that I will never forget. It made me want to vomit, scream, curse, scratch someone's eyes out, wail Biblically and tear at my hair and clothes. It was the conversation in which we decided how we would treat Joey's cancer going forward. It was the most awful, most heart wrenching conversation I have ever had in my life. Joey was going to die from his tumor, there was no doubt about that. But I couldn't wrap my mind around just letting him die. It seemed cruel to me to not try to do anything we could. To be fair to Hubby's point of view, it seemed cruel to him to put a small child through the harshness of treatment that he saw his father go through.
We made those decisions for Joey, but an adult (and even certain children) should have the right to make their own decisions about their treatment. It is excruciatingly difficult and heartbreaking, but it is the right thing. Brittany Maynard has shown us that.
Brittany was a young woman who was diagnosed with one of the most deadly brain tumors, a glioblastoma (which is a form of an astrocytoma). They are always fatal within about four to fifteen month's time. Brittany moved with her new husband and her mother and step-father to Oregon, a state which has a Death With Dignity Act. Brittany made the choice to end her own life before the tumor could rob her of everything. In a final kiss-off to cancer and an illustration of why every state needs a Death With Dignity Act, Brittany lived her life fulfilling items on her "bucket-list" before ending her own life on Saturday surrounded by those she loved.
Currently only three states - Oregon, Vermont, and Washington - have Death With Dignity laws. These laws allow "mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death (from the website deathwithdignity.org). Patients and physicians must work together to make this decision.
I have written about other countries' laws concerning ending the lives of terminally ill children. This is a far harder pill to swallow than an adult making this decision for herself. Brittany knew what was going to happen to her. She experienced changes in her body, seizures, and debilitating headaches, but she did not give up on life. She lived it. Can you imagine knowing that you are going to die and getting to plan your last days, say your good-byes, and die how YOU want to, not how cancer decides you will? This story admittedly made me sick to my tummy at first. I didn't want it to be something the media had blown out of proportion, twisted and contorted for click bait. But now, as I read more about Brittany and her final days, I'm in awe of her strength and courage. She had more courage and determination in her last days than most people have in their entire lives. She wasn't doing this to have her 15 minutes of fame. She was doing this in the public eye because she saw an opportunity to do something good for other people like her. She was doing it to leave a legacy and to create on-going discussion.
I prayed for Brittany at church on Sunday, even before I knew that she had passed. And now my prayers will be for her family and friends. I always pray for those with cancer and their families because I know first hand how devastating it is. As difficult as it is to wrap our minds around the euthanasia of people (we do it for our suffering pets after all), it's a discussion that needs to stay in public light. Brittany did that for us. Not since Jack Kevorkian received media attention in the late 1990s for assisting patient suicides has anyone else discussed this controversial topic so publicly.
I have seen cancer. I know first hand how devastating it is to watch someone you love become a shell of themselves. I know how heartbreaking it is to be helpless in the face of their pain and suffering, and I know how awful it is that the treatment is often more debilitating and deadly than the disease. Thank you, Brittany, for being the beautiful, brave face of choice; and even in death, being an example of how to live.